For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been.”

It is natural for all those who knew, admired, or had just read about North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor to dwell on what might have been, had the Utah National Guard officer not been killed last month while on deployment in Afghanistan.

Maj. Taylor was, after all, only 39 years old. A husband and father of seven children.

He was already on his fourth military deployment — two each in Iraq and Afghanistan — in his 10 years in the service. He had twice been elected mayor of his hometown and not only been appointed to the board of the Utah Transit Authority but, even before taking his seat, also started pushing for much-needed reforms to that body’s budgeting and governing structure.

He was an articulate and enthusiastic evangelist for democracy, at home and in Afghanistan. He was justly proud to have been a part of the security apparatus that watched over the most recent Afghan elections, and wrote on social media about how that experience made him appreciate American democracy all the more, and the right and duty all citizens have to vote.

And how the rest of us should, too.

In his final Facebook post, Taylor wrote:

“As the USA gets ready to vote in our own election next week, I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote. And that whether the Republicans or the Democrats win, that we all remember that we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us. ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ God Bless America.”

Such beliefs, such devotion, such enthusiasm, made him an obvious prospect for higher office. The Legislature. Governor. Congress. And not in a self-promoting way.

“Service,” Taylor said, “is really what leadership is all about.”

His example inspired both his American friends and those he made in Afghanistan.

Among those expressing his condolences to Taylor’s wife, Jennie, was Afghan Army Maj. Abdul Rahman Rahmani. He wrote of Taylor not only as a friend and comrade in arms, but also as someone who helped him to understand that wives and children are precious human beings, not property.

“He died on our soil,” Rahmani said of Taylor, “but he died for the success of freedom and democracy in both of our countries.”

So those who knew Brent Taylor, and those who may only have heard about him when he died, feel robbed of what he might yet have accomplished.

Better, though, to remember what we had. And to appreciate what we will continue to have if we will but honor Taylor’s memory and what he stood for.

Service, to his family, his community, his country and our world. An infectious enthusiasm for service, democracy, voting, seeking office, fighting for what’s right even while taking care to build friendships rather than devolve into warring tribes.

In selecting the Utahn of the Year, The Salt Lake Tribune has sometimes picked the person or persons who were part of the biggest news event, or who had the most influence on events, for good or for ill.

This year, the title goes not to someone who made the biggest splash or passed the most important legislation. This year it goes to the person who, more than anyone else, Utahns would like to hold up as an example of who we are. And who we can be.

The Utahn of the Year, Maj. Brent Taylor.

Editor’s note: The Tribune’s editorial board and senior news editors select the Utahn of the Year. The newspaper also conducts an online poll of readers. A plurality of readers also selected Taylor from a long list of choices.